SCOTT HOPPE is the founder of Why Blu, a fully distributed accounting firm that files tax returns for businesses in the United States. He left the traditional “up or out” accounting world to start a company that valued happiness as well as profit.
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His tips for working remotely:
- Be clear about your purpose
- Create agreements on how to work together.
- Experiment, fail, and learn.
- Hire people who have the mindset you are looking for and don’t compromise.
- Work where you are the happiest.
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Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Hello, everybody, and welcome to episode 160. Today I’m going to be interviewing Scott Hoppe from a 100% distributed accounting firm called Hoppe Tax. But before we get into that interview, I want to give you guys this week’s one-minute tip.
As I mentioned on last week’s episode about great self-care, I’m going through a bit of a tough time for the last couple of months. So one of the tips that I’m going to share with you today is something that I’ve learned over the last couple of months, which is when you’re going through a tough time, make sure and clear the decks. So take out as many meetings as you can and make room for your emotions and just make room for yourself to be unproductive sometimes. We can’t do 100% all the time. And every once in a while we need to just take some time for ourselves. So if you’re going through a hard time, this week’s tip is clear the decks. Give yourself some room to feel.
Let’s get on to the interview. Like I said before, I’m speaking with Scott Hoppe, the founder and CEO at hoppetax.com, which is a 100% distributed accounting firm. They file taxes for businesses in the U.S., and all of their accountants and staff work from wherever they want. In fact, Scott encourages people to work from wherever they’re happiest. One of the things that I liked so much about this interview was Scott’s perspective on work. He comes from a very traditional accounting background, and he says that in that background, remote workers are really treated like second-class citizens at some of these high-powered accounting firms and that the general culture at these places is really an up-or-out attitude. So Scott wanted to try something different. He wanted to value family and happiness over profit. So he decided to create his own company that made happiness at least, if not more, important than profit. And to me, this is a perfect example of where the future of work is headed. It is no longer simply profit-driven, which is of course still important. We all need to pay the bills and make a living. But there’s something else that’s driving people, and it’s the sense of purpose and wanting to change the world and to be happy ourselves, and that I find motivating.
Many of you know that I’m highly involved with Happy Melly, which is a global professional happiness association. If you want to learn more about that, go to happymelly.com.
And now let’s get on with the interview. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Scott Hoppe.
What does your virtual office look like?
Scott: Thanks for having me. My virtual office for myself looks like a standing desk inside of my home. I’ve tried having an office space before. It wasn’t the right fit. So my own office is inside of our two-bedroom apartment. Since you’re from San Francisco, you know two bedrooms is like a premium.
Lisette: A palace.
Scott: It’s a palace, yeah, so to speak. It’s my 900-square-feet palace. And I’ve sectioned off part of the room that is the baby section for our newborn, and then one-third is for my office, and that’s where the [wall – 03:48] backs into and we have a whiteboard set up. But beyond me, I have team members in the United States, in Florida, in L.A., California, Boston, Massachusetts, and in Ohio, just right outside of Columbus. And we all work virtually from our home.
Lisette: So why didn’t the office space work for you?
Scott: No, [inaudible – 04:11] initially with a transition from a very traditional, public-accounting background. And in accounting, traditional means there is an office space, it’s very hierarchical. And when I left public accounting, I went into and worked for an [architecture – 04:27] firm, still with service industry in a service company, but now [inaudible – 04:32] going from that analytical mindset to the creative mindset. And you saw the similarities that exist across the two styles of firms, and you saw the differences with the mindsets. And I like that culture, the forward-thinking side of the design firm. So when I decided three years ago I’m ready to pull the trigger and open up my own practice, I wanted to be different than what existed. And I had to break the norms and the things that I was comfortable with, the physical office, the paper trail, everything that I known. And I did that by making sure my practice had no office, worked with clients 100% virtually—or digitally is how I say it—and created a workflow using Google Drive and some of the other tools to remove paper from start to finish. There are some times when we have exceptions to that because the law doesn’t let us have all electronic filings, but those are the exceptions. And for two years, that’s how it went. Then we started expanding the team, the practice. All of the clients were used to working together virtually. And I had an office just to give myself space. In the end, I was just sitting in an office. It was kind of cool because you could see the trolley cars in San Francisco, and that was nice. But I was sharing it. Office space is expensive here. So I was sharing days. And it was just too much of a hassle to try to coordinate days with someone else. I was like, “I’m not try to make this more difficult.” This whole idea was like, “I’m working remotely because this is supposed to be the future.” In the future, I need to work wherever I’m happiest, however I want, and wherever I want. I’m working from home. So I shut the office down after three months and I couldn’t be happier.
Lisette: It says on your website, “Remote work feels like the future.” Why does it feel like the future to you?
Scott: I had this notion. I was like, “Something is broken here.” The focus wasn’t on the people. The focus was on hiring the people and getting people to do the work. But I felt profit-driven. Everything felt profit-driven whether we were doing community activities or not. And I was like, “This is their success model, but it isn’t the model that I would consider the success model for a remote company or for any company.” So it feels like the future for me because we can be very forward-thinking in how we treat our people and letting people work how they want and where they’re comfortable. They can be [inaudible – 07:11]. They cannot [inaudible]. I wouldn’t know the difference. It becomes results-oriented [inaudible – 07:16] chair-oriented. And it also starts allowing us to work with our clients and the way that they work with their CPAs. Pretty much every person I talk to—whether they’re comfortable with working with 100% distributed company or not—works with their accounting primarily by email or phone.
Lisette: Who goes to the accountant’s office these days?
Scott: No one. [inaudible – 07:42]. I haven’t talked to one person [inaudible] every quarter I sit down with my accountant. It’s not the style. It’s not how we do it. So we figured, “You know what? By putting ourselves in this position to only be 100% virtual, now we have to support it. We’re all in. We have to build every system around this.” It’s not a second thought. It’s the only thought. And that mentality and that shift in that mindset of always trying to improve the system we have, has allowed what I think to first build a much better culture and experience for the clients around the whole paperless, start-to-finish process as well as that commitment that we’re trying to build and that community we’re trying to build with our clients digitally, which may also be the key to what’s the biggest challenge of running the business this way, especially the service business. How do we make people feel that commitment with us when there’s never been that face-to-face, or potentially has never been that face-to-face, high-trust interaction.
Lisette: Indeed. So you’re saying your clients, you’re trying to build this trust relationship with your clients, but of course you’re not meeting them over lunch or martinis or whatever. I have this image that accountants meet their clients over martini lunches or something. I’ll be like toast.
Scott: Maybe the lawyers. The lawyers will [inaudible – 09:10] clock is running for them.
Lisette: Right, that’s smart. I don’t know who does martini lunches [inaudible]. So how do you build that trust with the clients? My next question that is tied into that. What are our clients hesitant about working with an all-virtual company?
Scott: It’s been interesting because in the time that it’s been going on, it’s grown. It’s expanded. I started out as a solo entrepreneur and I had it in my head. Maybe I will just be myself. I’ll develop a comfortable practice and I’ll be okay. Mind you, my wife is also a CPA, which is radically awesome when you’re inside a home and you can bounce ideas off of each other. [inaudible – 09:56] very technical, like the work we do. We’re looking at the client interaction and being virtual, and we’re thinking, “I’m solo. I need to find myself– because how can the clients ever buy into me if I’m not bought into me?” This was a big challenge. It took three years, honestly. And a lot of dedication in the last six months of focusing on the why. But I went through these evolutions of working by myself, realizing that some of the things that I thought were barriers in my career that were external. I wasn’t taking care of myself because the firm was asking so much from me, taking my time. I realize it was actually I was the barrier. I was stopping myself from going on that run, [inaudible – 10:42], not being as stressed as I should be. So the initial transition was going with intent. And all of a sudden, you’re like, “Okay, great, now we know about intent. Let’s keep moving forward though.” And now once you start working on this intent, I was able to work on a framework for my intentions, which follows this [F.I. – 11:04] framework and has to do with the five buckets of my life that I want to know how I’m prioritizing things: faith, family, friends, fitness, and finance. And those were really important to go through. I’ll just say it one more time. That’s faith, family, friends, fitness, finance. And why those are still important is you need to know what the order is for you and your ideal order so that you can see when you’re in and outside of the bounds and where you want to be. So my ideal would be faith first, then family, then fitness, then friends, then finance. Well, now I know that. I was able to reflect and contemplate. And I came up with what am I actually doing. What I was actually doing was [inaudible – 11:50]. I had finance at the top on how I was making decisions. Then it was fitness, not too far off, then family, then friends, and then faith at the bottom. I’m like, “Whoa! Faith, spiritual, community– Faith contains like volunteering and spiritual aspects. If that’s number one for me, why am I treating like it’s number five? Perfect, because of having intentions, I was able to flip that around and work on it.” That’s all fine and dandy, but I started realizing that to get the true intention, you need to have clarity on your purpose. Oh, that’s the big question.
Scott: So that’s something you can’t rush, but your why has to be one of the most complex things to work on because it’s in every decision you make. It’s in every action you have. It’s in everything that you’re doing. It’s staring you at your face. It’s right in your face. It’s there but you can’t see it. And that challenge took a long time to work through. And now we do have more clarity on it and we’re able to write it out into like a manifesto. And then that’s how we could start distributing it to our team. So they’re all working in the same direction. And now when we’re talking to our clients, they know which direction and why we’re making decisions how we’re making it and why we work like we work and remove from the table– And I’ll describe the why too. [inaudible – 13:15]. But what it did for our clients was it transitioned the conversation from being, “Okay, can we meet face-to-face?” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s an awkward one.” I don’t want to say no. This is my first time talking to them, but it’s a no. Every time I violated that, by the way, the clients turned out to be not the right person for me.
Lisette: Oh, interesting.
Scott: I was like, “Quick learn, don’t do that again.” If they can’t start working with me without meeting me, it shouldn’t be the right client and I need to move on. But we were able to avoid that question now because I don’t have to meet them face-to-face. I’m like, “[inaudible – 13:55] is about being pioneers in building the brand-new framework for a modern accounting firm. We can’t be pioneers and build a new accounting firm if we’re doing things the old way.”
Lisette: Why do you think old accounting firms aren’t embracing the flexible work more often?
Scott: It’s interesting. You’ve talked about this in some other episodes. Definitely, there are articles about it. And this idea of when you’re a remote employee at a traditional accounting firm, whether they see it or not immediately, you’re a second-class citizen. You’re all of a sudden removed. There’s all this banter, there’s all this stuff going on in the office, and you’re not part of it. And no one is giving you the hour catch-up on what happened at the water cooler. Or more importantly, when you’re in a meeting, I felt this a lot at the design firm because I’ve [inaudible – 14:50] offices around the world. So we had a lot in Europe, Australia, South America. And I would be working across language barriers, time zones, cultures, and video to coordinate the legal aspects of opening up a firm and the tax consequences. So when you’re talking about those topics with different cultures, you start realizing some people [inaudible – 15:14] rest of the teams inside of a meeting room. You don’t even know it, and you already have a bias towards the people in the room. I was cognitive, but I’m not saying everyone may be aware of it as easily or as quickly.
Lisette: It’s so natural. It’s like somebody is sitting next to you. It’s so natural. There’s just no comparison. I mean there is. You could use telepresence. Okay, of course, I think there’s a comparison, but yeah, it’s very hard. It’s very hard.
Scott: And when you start getting into these very competitive environments of accounting, which there is the Big Four. And I’ve worked at Ernst & Young and PWC. And there was two more, Deloitte and KPMG. These are high-caliber environments, very smart people. But the culture and the mentality that goes around it is up or out. It’s hard to put the brakes on. And for the last 30 years, we’ve done a lot in accounting to actually promote, to make sure women are moving up the ranks because we weren’t being intentional about that before and it wasn’t happening. And now it’s better. But even with that, if you have a kid and you’re like, “Okay, great, I’ll go back part-time and I can support having my family, and I can have a job, a career.” I think that’s amazing.
The problem now is inside of accounting, what we tend to see is when you make that decision to go part-time, you’re working 45 hours a week because that is part-time.
Lisette: Right. And I love what you said earlier about that profit-driven wasn’t the success model that you wanted for yourself. And I can really relate to that because I also had the same when I built my business. I joined the Happy Melly network. It’s a professional happiness association. Profit was important, of course. I want to make money just like the rest of them. I want to buy the shoes that I want to buy and the vacations I want to go. I want it all too. But I didn’t want that to be the only thing that was driving my business. I also wanted to be happy at work. So I wanted to join a network of people that valued that also. So I can see this whole up-or-out attitude in this competitive environment. It’s really good for some, but for the others that want good work-life balance or to spend time with their family, that is not the environment that you necessarily want to thrive in. So I can totally see that.
Scott: And being a new parent, [inaudible – 17:37] because I’ve now started– I want to give a little more background about me and why I’ve worked and focused so much on the accounting industry and the model. I actually got my doctorate in accounting focused on the models that we have for the office environment and the culture and how it does or doesn’t promote people who leave the firm to recommend people to work back for the firm or to bring business back. So looking at like alumni employees, how willing are they to say, “You know what? [inaudible – 18:09] I worked at PWC and they’re super supportive. They’re great. You should work there.” Or would they say, “Umm, my experience is not so hot. Maybe you should look at a different firm or it makes sense to go regional.” Employees are high, high-demand. Clients are high-demand, good clients. And oftentimes their alumni are from PWCs and the sorts. They’re working at high-caliber firms, which could in turn bring back very, very good business to the practice. But you may jeopardize that if you’re not treating them right. So I think fundamentally, this profit model of only focusing on the dollar– Not everyone is like that. I should also caveat this. [inaudible – 18:48]. There are plenty of very, very good people in there that are people first. It just gets lost among some of the others, the more traditional formats where they are profit-driven. They think that you have this dichotomy between– We’re completely at odds if we put our people first with profits in bottom line, and I don’t think that’s true.
Lisette: Yeah. And I hope you’re right. I think you’re right as well. I think there’s a whole, new generation of people who are more interested in experience than over profit necessarily. We all want to make enough money to survive. And then there’s all this other stuff on top of that.
So you’ve set up your firm to be 100% distributed. I want to talk a little bit about how you guys work amongst yourselves. What are the tools that you use? How do you communicate? And how do you know what each other are doing? Let’s dive into that. But I guess let’s start with tools. What are some of the tools that you guys use?
Scott: Everyone loves a good tool.
Lisette: Sure, especially new.
Scott: Yeah, I think I’m addicted to your eight-minute updates on the new tools. I don’t have to give their research.
Lisette: Exactly, exactly.
Scott: So when I’m looking at the tools that we use– With accounting, also with the general stuff that I think is really great– And then some specific things we have to use in accounting because it’s not all there. It’s [inaudible – 20:12] future [inaudible]. So we’re very much along the lines and we’re purposeful in the tools that we picked using Asana, using Slack. We use the G Suite. Google Drive is a big play on that. We do not email each other, but we email clients. So that’s been phenomenal for, I would say, a happy inbox, as a happy life, and having all of the internal emails removed from your Gmail. And now it’s only client-facing ones, easier to manage. The noise, I don’t have to open up my email. I can be in Asana and practice.
But the tool that was unique for me in this realm that’s been super helpful in productivity is our timesheet software. That’s HourStack. HourStack integrates in with your Google Calendar, Asana, Slack. And what HourStack does for us is allows you to stack your boxes so you can create your to-do list for the day with budget time allocations. So you can say, “I think this interview is going to take me an hour and a half.” I start the call. And when we reach an hour and a half, it won’t stop the clock but it will say, “Hey, you’re out of time.” Well, now when we’re looking back at some projects that we have, it’s easy to dive really deep into the details of [inaudible – 21:26] technical topics. It kind of gives you a [inaudible] okay, I haven’t gotten as far as I should’ve gotten in two hours, yes, now.
Lisette: Right. Plus, as accountants also, you probably are charging clients not by the hour, but you’re probably tracking. I mean I remember when I worked in engineering, we tracked all of our cost to a particular project. So it’d be like three hours on this project, one hour on that project, and then that’s how he tracked it. I’m assuming accounting is a little bit similar.
Scott: Yeah, very much so in the traditional model, typically the billable hour. Sometimes it’s flat-rate. What I have focused a lot on is the flat rate, the value pricing. It means the client knows what they’re paying. And if we were to go over that, it’s up to us to come to them to say, “Hey, you know, there was this aspect of engagement that we didn’t identify or new facts came up,” blah, blah, blah. And let’s work out the new scope and the new pricing. But what I like about that is it changes that responsibility from the client to us to have that conversation. So now when we finish the work, we’re now sending an invoice that’s triple the amount than the client ever expected. And the client definitely didn’t authorize it. But it was up to them to be aware of it and not for us to tell them and for us to stop and ask them [inaudible – 22:43] the cost or we’re asking them. And you know we don’t want to eat the cost, so now they’re in the power seat. And that’s really cool for the client. They get to make the decision. That’s unique for us. I will be very honest and behind the red velvet rope. For the first two and a half years or two years, we didn’t really track hours because I cared about results and I was like, “Look, we’re getting this off the ground. All that matters is a happy client, anything to get the job done. Now we are expanding. We are in the 200+ client range. We have a bigger team. It’s getting more important for us to introduce the time tracking to no.” Not really if we’re billing enough for the client, but is there something we need to train on? Is there an aspect that this person needs to get help on? Are they spending too much time somewhere? And it allows us to coach better. At least that’s the idea and how we plan to use it.
Lisette: I have to say, I tracked my own time for years and years and years. And just to see where it was going and how much time I was spending on certain projects, I don’t do it anymore only because I did it for so long that I know exactly about where things go. So after a while you get a feel for it. It’s like tracking your calories or something. After a while you just know like, “Oh, this has so much and this has so much.” So yeah, I can imagine that it’s good that that would be good for that. So HourStack, that’s a new one. I haven’t heard of it.
Scott: Yeah, that was a neat one for us.
Lisette: I bet. I can imagine, especially for your line of business, super handy for that. One thing about Slack that I wanted to ask, a lot of people say the whole signal-to-noise thing in Slack is really difficult. You just get so much. It’s like instant message on speed somehow. How do you manage that? Or if you do, I don’t know if you guys are like super– Maybe you’re super disciplined and you only sell things as needed. But most people struggle with this.
Scott: I would say that right now we’re going– Our typical style is let’s cast the net wide and hone it in. So how our Slack currently looks is we have– [inaudible – 24:47] alphabetical and we do zero dash (0-) whatever may be a general admin thing. So we have a 0-main, a 0-what are you up to. Got that from your Slack channel. I like the working out loud idea. We have a main channel, the fun and family channel, that what are you up to channel. Then we get into we have admin channels. And we call those #HT, short for Hoppe Tax. #HT-sales-email because someone manages my email inbox and we can communicate there. Or we can get other team feedback for quick ones. Basically, what we’re trying to do is keep all the quick communications, the under-five-minute stuff, inside of Slack when it comes to tasks. And anything over that five minutes, that needs multiple inputs. It’s usually in Asana. But it’s really we’re practicing it. What we’re feeling right now is is there too much noise. Do we have the integration set up with Slack and Asana where it’s bombarding you with double information and we’re working on it. But we managed it by creating those admin channels and then all of these client channels. Every client has an indicator, usually their business name, because we’ve worked primarily with businesses. And when we work with the businesses, it’s them and the individual’s return. So if you’re a corporation, it’s going to be, “Sandy owns the corporation of Sandy.” We work on the corporate returns, but then we also do the owner’s returns. So sometimes if it’s depending on what type of company it is, we may do the individual and the personal under one channel. Or if they have multiple entities, we’ll break out the entities and then have an individual channel just for them.
Lisette: Yeah. So it sounds like you really break out the channel so that everybody only joins what they actually need and want to join so that you can kind of break out the noise that way.
Scott: Yeah, that’s the strategy so far. And it’s then going well. I don’t know as we go because we’re expanding and we’re looking to grow. And that’s the direction that we’re going to. Again, coming back to our why, if we’re looking to create the modern framework for accounting industry, we can’t stop where we’re at because no one at the bigger level is going to bother to change. We’re like, “Okay, great, it works for you, little guy.”
Scott: But when we get to that critical mass. Maybe we’ll turn into having multiple Slack teams and client channels underneath there. But I don’t know how that will exactly be organized. And I’ve heard an idea. I was listening to Zapier’s COO interview in a podcast. I think it’s called productivity podcast. And I just stumbled upon it. And he talked about the [inaudible – 27:32] creating too much noise in the channels. So they put all the [inaudible] inside of a single channel. So if you wanted to update, you go to that channel and you get it. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. I thought that was a good strategy.
Lisette: Love it. [inaudible – 27:46] people on [inaudible] and in the middle Florida, California, Massachusetts, and Ohio, why there? Is there a tax purpose? Or was that just the best people you could find?
Scott: Ohio is– She’s my admin and helps me out tremendously with everything day-to-day. And the rest of the people are actually just CPAs that are amazing. I am so lucky to have them on the team. Each one brings something to the table. So California and the Northeast, New York, Massachusetts, [inaudible – 28:18] area, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh [inaudible] of the cities there. But in Pennsylvania, the taxes are incredibly complex. California is very complex. So by having someone in each one of those hubs, we have deep knowledge of the two most complex areas. And most of the times, businesses operating in California are also operating in the Northeast. So that’s been very helpful to have that [inaudible – 28:45].
Lisette: So did you seek out someone then specifically for that area because of the complicated tax laws? Or was it by chance?
Scott: I would say more I got lucky. I got very lucky to come across [inaudible – 29:01] interview [inaudible] who’s in Boston. Before that, what I was looking for was someone with that public accounting, the Big Four experience, knowing that those clients at that size would be both in California and East Coast and counting on that exposure. But also, when you have someone that’s really, really good and you can research issues, you have a level of familiarity. There are nuances in the law, but you just have to know there is a nuance to go look at up. There’s no way you’re putting the nuance and every little exception into your head. So I was looking more with people with growth mindsets to [inaudible – 29:39] book. And during the interview process, maybe I should [inaudible] for another question [inaudible].
Lisette: I was going to say. That is actually the next question. How did you know that these guys and girls would be great as in a distributed accounting firm?
Scott: That’s something that I would say in the very beginning, I hired people that weren’t the right fit. And I started talking to a couple of my mentors that are the PwC. They retired from that. So they are partner throughout. I felt like I’m screwing up here. But it wasn’t that bad. But I felt like I was screwing up. And they go, “You know what? Hiring and people is like anything. You’ve just got to practice, you’ve got to fail, and you’ve got to learn. And that’s the only way.” It’s not a virtual. It’s on a physical office. It’s different.
Lisette: It’s an experience thing. I’ve heard the same thing. People always say, “In every company people have a hard time hiring people, co-located or remote.” And of course everybody is on their best behavior in the beginning. It’s like dating. You have to date for like six months before the weird stuff comes out. And it’s the same.
Scott: It’s really cool about what we do though. Because everything is virtual in our world, we can now be very intentional about the steps that we take. It doesn’t have to be loosey-goosey. It doesn’t have to go any old way. It’s not just show up to the office, let’s figure it out, and [they get a – 31:03] person. So I took all those experiences and bundled it up into a few different flows. One of them is before you even get to the interview, we have a quiz on Google that asks eight questions because you have to balance the amount of questions, the responses that you’ll get with the quality of information about mindset. And out of the gate, if you’re not getting a 7 or 8 out of 8, which means you have a growth mindset, I don’t have time. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to talk to you and I have to filter that out at the door. And that was a hard one that I put on that I didn’t have until L.A. [definitely – 31:47]. So actually, everyone is ladies here, which is awesome.
Lisette: Totally awesome, bonus points.
Scott: Very cool. I had an HR professor in my doctorate program. Huge feminist. I read a couple of books on breaking the mold. And I was all inspired. And she’s still proud of me now [laughs].
Lisette: I bet. I bet.
Scott: But I didn’t do it for that. These people are just amazing. And they’re so good-natured. And by putting this filter in, the conversations that we have now in Slack and among the team and doing all these video interviews or video calls—we default to video calls pretty quick, by the way—it’s so positive. And your mentality is always in this growth mindset of, “No, we don’t have limits. We only have options. Let’s keep moving [inaudible – 32:38].” Before, I wasn’t so [inaudible] about this. And I don’t feel like our conversations are as open or there could’ve been a friction in the mindsets, and you’re just more [inaudible – 32:47] aware of it. So a simple fix, set up a quiz. I’m sure that with anyone that’s interested, I can just– I’m sure we’ll improve by the time someone listens to this and make it a habit [inaudible – 32:57] playbook.
Lisette: Yeah, because the people still have to implement it. So even if they try to copy you, they have to actually– Like it’s not a copy thing. Most people still have to actually do it and a lot of people don’t do it. Okay, so in terms of hiring, you first do this quiz, you weed people out, and then of course you start having conversations. And one thing that you just said that interested me was you quickly default to video calls. So when do you default to video calls? After it starts getting complicated, do you just like click a button? What’s your behavior?
Scott: I’m going to sound like I’m on the Zapier training. It just happens. When I first started the practice, I was like, “Yeah, 100% virtual.” And then I went into this. It’s all about client experience, and it still is, it’s 100% client experience. But it evolved beyond me, and I had to look for inspiration in new spots as it’s evolved. Once we got to this 100% distributed and the team really started expanding and getting bigger, I’ve had to spend more time looking, researching, and reading about our Zapiers, our Buffers, and the likes. So of course I read Rework and all of the good stuff there.
Then Matt came in again and did a live presentation down in San Francisco at one of the workshops, so I went. And this was when I got introduced to concept of bandwidth. And I didn’t put a framework around how we should communicate until then. And he goes, “Look, we’re operating on this bandwidth and we’re at a low bandwidth in communication and a high bandwidth in communication.” We’re at a low bandwidth when we’re online and we’re not saying anything. We’re at a high bandwidth when we’re in person. And I’m like, “That makes sense.” What I found fascinating about it was he goes, “The virtual office defaults to the low bandwidth, no communication, but no distractions. The physical office defaults to high bandwidth, high distractions.” I’m like, “Great, I’m on board. How do you know when to move?” And he goes, “Okay, so you’re going from no communication to text. [inaudible – 35:09] text to video. I’ll skip phone [inaudible].” Well, in the text conversation, when you see the three little dots pop up when people are typing– Or in Slack you see their name [inaudible – 35:19] typing, that’s fine when one person says something. Then you respond and say something. Then they say something. You say something. Then, all of a sudden, a third person comes in and says something. And then you’re responding to the initial message. And then, all of a sudden, if someone is responding, it starts getting really messy because you’re crossing the lines on the communication. That’s [inaudible – 35:36] video [inaudible] didn’t already have it. I took a hold of that. We default to video quicker. Then [inaudible – 35:42] pretty fast on it. And that will be inside of my team agreement once we formalize it because I realize in the beginning when you brought new people on, they didn’t realize it’s something that we’re just doing so naturally, jumping to video. They didn’t know. They weren’t aware. So you have to write it down. Now when they come on, the onboarding experience is improved because they know how we operate, more clarity. And they can get ramped up really fast.
Lisette: Yeah, indeed. When we’re in an office, you can see how people are behaving in sort of copy and model your behavior at first compared to other people.
Scott: Social proof. It’s like when we looked into others for what we’re supposed to do or not do.
Lisette: Totally, because you’re new in an office and you don’t want to step on toes and you sort of want to be polite. It’s just like the beginning of any relationship. You want to just sort of check out, see what other people are doing. But on a remote team we don’t have that context at all. And I like what you called it before. We have these ghost agreements.
Scott: The ghost contracts.
Lisette: The ghost contracts. Yeah, I really like that. It’s like we just assume behavior, but we can’t see each other on remote team. So that’s why the team agreements come in because it makes it really easy for everybody just to standardize like, “Okay, what’s normal behavior for our team?” That’s super important.
Scott: Yeah. For the people that don’t know anything about ghost contracts because I did, I learned it in college. When you’re living with new people, someone is doing the dishes, and someone is not doing the dishes, you don’t set up any formal agreement on who’s supposed to do it. But the person that tends to do it keeps doing it and the person that doesn’t do it keeps not doing it. And these are ghost contracts that you set up. And whether it’s formalized or not, you have agreed, “Scott, you’re the dishwasher. Fred, you’re not the dishwasher.” And by pure action it’s established. We’re talking about here and you don’t get that ghost contract– really, the building to set that up, kind of because a lot of the team agreement comes from things that you start naturally doing in Slack that wasn’t formalized. You’re like, “Oh, that’s a good idea.” But then you formalize it. Otherwise, it will never disseminate.
Lisette: Right, indeed. We’re reaching the top of the hour, I’m noticing, which is crazy because I have all these questions. But I want to make sure to be mindful of the time. I want to ask you about advice for people who are starting out with– For people who are looking for accountants or businesses looking for accountants, what advice would you give about working with virtual? Say somebody wants to go virtual. What’s your advice for them?
Scott: I would say if you’re a business owner, it’s really, really imperative to be [inaudible – 38:18] about the people that you spend your time with. And you have the Jim Rohn saying, “You’re The Average Of The Five.” And when you look at that and your business, if you’re trying to be future- and forward-thinking, if you’re trying to work in that mentality, you’re trying to use the tools this way, you’re trying to go in that direction, and you’re trying to grow, get someone on board that’s also going in that direction with the same mentality. Otherwise, you’re going to talk to your account for advice [inaudible – 38:43] what are you doing? Why are you doing that? I don’t get it. Is it to save money? Is that why you’re [inaudible – 38:47] out? No, it’s never about that, and it’s always about the culture side. So for the business owner, the best thing you can do is interview enough people and worry about who’s the person that I’m working with. Will they take me in the right direction? And [inaudible – 39:06] was catching [inaudible] as if it’s like, “Oh, maybe you don’t necessarily want to just have everyone with the same mindset move in the same direction because then how do you get a broader opinion.” But in reality, it’s like, “No, you want people that are going to lift you up, raise the bar, and help you establish that.” Your standards can be better or greater than they were by yourself individually. And I look for business owners that do that for me. And I have a feeling that the same thing gets reciprocated back.
Lisette: And I think that having the same mindset doesn’t mean that you’re thinking the same. But, for instance, having a mindset of curiosity or experimentation, those are kind of the mindsets that you’d probably want to bring in on this remote kind of thing.
Scott: Exactly. [inaudible – 39:45] are really good.
Lisette: Yeah, learning as a mindset, indeed. Okay, so it sounds like your advice is always hire the best. Don’t settle for people who don’t have the same values and your same mindset. Continue to look before you bring those people on. Does that categorize it?
Scott: Yeah, absolutely, whether it’s for your internal team, for your external clients. Maybe you have to sacrifice in the beginning for the client because you’re trying to get off the ground and you know they’re not the right fit. But know they’re not the right fit and know when they need to leave. Know the trigger and build your roster how you want it to be built so that you’re constantly raising the bar up for yourself and for them.
Lisette: Do you think you could ever go back to a day job in an office?
Scott: [laughs] Never, not a chance.
Scott: No. I am so addicted to this, and I am so blessed when I talk to the team. And we’re all smiling. That’s unheard of in accounting.
Lisette: I was going to say it doesn’t sound like accounting.
Scott: You forget because you set these new norms for yourself and you’re like, “Okay, well, I’m just used to this.” And every once in a while, you reflect back. And I’m on the call with one of them. And I’m a little bit like, “Hey.” We all get along really well. How special is that? Anything back [inaudible – 41:00] are like, “Yeah, that is really cool.” It’s just recognizing that and being grateful for it because it’s why we’re here. We only get one life and it’s really need to be able to spend it with people that you appreciate.
Lisette: Yeah, and that lifts you up. I like the idea that people are stronger on their own, but we can do more together than we can on our own. And when you find that symbiosis, latch on. That’s for sure.
Last question is how do people find more. I’m sure they can go to your website hoppetax.com. Is that the best place? Or are there other avenues?
Scott: I would say anyone that’s interested in the mindset of learning more, even hearing anything about the direction I go, I’m an open book. I love to share everything. So on that realm, I post as much as I can about what our manifesto is, our manifesto, the tools that we use, how we use it, our guides on the web page. [inaudible – 41:56]. And there’s a blog section. You can also learn a bit more about where you file returns. Or email me directly. Like I said, we don’t email each other internally. So the doors are wide open for you.
Lisette: Plenty of bandwidth on the email front for you, yeah.
Scott: Yeah. And I would say the last two spots are there’s a book club section. I’m always leading out part of building that community around clients. I read out a monthly book club. And we read. We have a Slack team for that. And we discuss the books. But really, this is the time when we do meet in person, for the ones that can. And [inaudible – 42:35] sharpen [inaudible] really good place and a resource to go for that latest and greatest. And finally, LinkedIn, I’ll put ideas out there and share them. That is [inaudible – 42:45], started using that a few months ago on scheduling post. And you’ll see things about remote working. I think I have one set up for [inaudible] CEOs of remote firms [inaudible]. It’s like this very do-or-die. Make sure you write it down. You’ve got to be [inaudible – 42:59]. It’s all the good stuff that I was talking about, wrapped up and I’m like, “Great, validated experiences.” That’s perfect.
Lisette: It’s exactly what people want to learn about. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. It’s really motivating to see other people—especially accountants—who are not out starting businesses that are profit first, that are also focused on happiness at work. I’m all for that. So thanks so much, Scott.
Scott: Thank you for having me on and being able to share a little bit our story. And I look forward to hear more from you and anyone else that’s been listening.
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